Sunday, January 11, 2009

Farewell talk

Given Sunday, Janaury 11, 2009, in the Livonia, Michigan ward.

Sisters and brothers, I want to talk to you today a bit about service.

I leave on Wednesday morning to spend two years in India, ten thousand miles from where I was born and raised. I’m going because I believe I will be serving God.
A couple of days ago, someone very close to me asked: if God actually existed, why wouldn’t he just appear in some regular fashion to demonstrate this? Say, 8am tomorrow morning at the Y.

I thought about that a bit.

We take as scripture the words of Lehi in the Book of Mormon, that “there must needs be an opposition in all things.” Without righteousness and wickedness, good and bad and man free to act for himself, that he might have joy --

The world “would have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation.”

Elsewhere, we learn that only by this path, knowing the good from the evil, and choosing the good, can men and women return to their Heavenly Father, becoming partakers of the divine nature by growing it within themselves.

These lessons, brothers and sisters, are incredibly profound, and they hold great implication for our own lives. I found them interesting the first time I read the Book of Mormon; they are now sweet fruit to my taste.

Lehi’s discourse thus explains, for example, why God won’t give us permanently irrefutable signs. It’s because some types of challenges and hardships are essential to growth as children of God.

I’m going to focus on something we often feel is a burden and almost always find a challenge, and describe how it relates to our journey and our purpose on this earth. Our responsibility to serve others.

A couple scriptures to set the stage. From the Old Testament, Psalms 55:22: "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee."

And from the New Testament, Matthew 11:28-30: "Take my yoke upon you."

Please take a moment to create that mental picture.

Envision yourself removing a pack from your back or shoulders, setting it aside, then picking up a new pack to carry instead. The old pack is weaknesses, anxiety, fears, pains – sins that Christ’s atonement can take away. The new pack is the empowering knowledge you are loved by Jesus Christ as a child of Heavenly Father, and a commission from Christ to spread that love: “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”

Why would we do that? Okay, so I could give a purely logical answer to that question, but I think there’s a better way. I want to share a couple of pictures in the scriptures.

The first is what’s been called “the weeping God of Mormonism.” In the Book of Moses, chapter 7; righteous Enoch sees what must have been a terribly confusing and off-putting sight: the Lord himself, crying over His creation.

Enoch’s incredulous question: “Thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?”

The Lord’s reply: “These thy brethren are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge; and gave I unto man his agency. And unto thy brethren have I said that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.”

Loving one another, choosing Him, and carrying that out into action, is so important that it caused the “heavens [to] weep, and shed forth their tears as rain upon the mountain,” when humans didn’t listen.

Book of Mormon prophet Alma tells us what happens when we plant these things in our heart. If you do that, he says, you will soon say: “It beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

And if you have diligence and faith and patience with the word in nourishing it, Alma says, “it may take root in you, [and] behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”

When I read those words, I can almost taste the fruit in my mouth.

I try to keep in mind that this is an end result. We can feel tempted to disappointment when in service and in our duties, we are be stretched to the point where we wonder if we can stretch that far. Church leader, President Henry B. Eyring, speaking to a male audience, said recently:

Perhaps on the streets of a strange city, you may have thought: “Once I finish my mission, being a faithful priesthood holder will be easier.” But a few years later, you found yourself getting even less sleep at night, while trying to support a wife and a new baby, being kind and loving, scrambling to get some education, reaching out to the members of your elders quorum, perhaps even helping them to move their furniture, and trying to find time to serve your ancestors in the temple. You may have kept a smile on your face with the thought: “When I get a little older, being a faithful priesthood holder will not require so much. It will get easier.”

Those of you further down the road are smiling because you know something about priesthood service. It is this: the more faithful service you give, the more the Lord asks of you. Your smile is a happy one because you know that He increases our power to carry the heavier load.

“Your smile is a happy one, because you know He increases our power to carry the heavier load.” So serving might not get lighter, but the process is necessary, and will grow easier. Moreover, we will want it.

I felt myself in these shoes about a month ago as a thought came into my head, contemplating leaving for India. The path is hard, Sam, and it’s only going to grow harder. Do you really want to go on with this?

My instinctive reply: Yes I do. More than anything in the world.
Why? Because I think of Enoch’s conversation, or Alma’s discourse, and they are real to me. I can see myself in their vision, and I can see their words in me.

The times ahead of me are hard,because there is an opposition in all things
I know such challenges are inevitable and essential. President Eyring says that when feelings of inadequacy strike us, it is the time to remember the Savior; recalling scriptures that make the plan of salvation real to me is one way I, personally, do it.

Not perfectly; often not even well; at crucial times in my decision to serve a mission, I was forced ahead at figurative gunpoint by my conscience, which was reminding me, “You do believe that. Yes, you do.”

A recent thought: I often hardly know how to persuade myself to follow the Light more, and now I must help to persuade others. I take comfort in the words of the Lord to Book of Mormon prophet Ether. He’ll start by showing us the problem, for “if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.” And then he’ll help fix it: this weakness prompts humility, and if we stay humble and trust the Lord, then he will “make weak things become strong.”

I’ll close with Matthew 5:48, another commission to “be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” This seems impossible, and purposefully so; but read the footnotes. The Greek word translated for “perfect” is better read as complete, finished, fully developed.

So “be complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father in Heaven is complete, finished, fully developed.”

I bear you my testimony that service to others is necessary achieve this noble goal, in being fully developed as children of God. And I bear you my testimony that when we are in the service of our fellow man we are only in the service of our God; and that in this service we have our Heavenly Father’s help, strengthening us. In the name of His son, Jesus Christ, amen.

(This talk blatantly plagiarized a couple of blog posts from my favorite blogger, see here and here. Thank you for your insights, Ray. They have enlarged my soul.)